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With its acres of soft white sands, swaying palm trees and laid-back vibe, it is not hard to see why people flock to Goa in their droves. This tranquil slice of India sits on the west coast of the country with the inviting waters of the Arabian Sea lapping its shores. Although it is on the mainland, it has the feel of island life and you may find yourself slipping down a few gears to match its relaxed pace. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sipping Cobra beer and shooting the breeze with the locals.
It is not much a hardship but picking which Goan beach to try first is a tough one. In North Goa, Vagtor Beach would win the beauty contest, with tall palms hang over its sands and deep blue waters backed by dramatic red cliffs. Mandrem Beach has plenty of shacks to lounge under and also lots of great restaurants on hand. Nature lovers should make a beeline for Morjim Beach, where they may be able to spot little olive ridley sea turtles. In South Goa, Palolem is dotted with beach huts and you can take boat trips out to spot dolphins from here. Benaulim Beach is the best place to buy local handicrafts.
On the nature front, it’s not just beaches Goa has to offer. Head inland to the Dudhsagar Falls in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary. In the monsoon season around June, the water cascades down the rockfaces. It’s best to book a day trip up here as guides can show you the safe swimming spots.
Given Goa’s rich history – it was ruled for over 450 years by the Portuguese – it is little wonder the European architecture in the city is so spectacular and its colonial past is evident at every turn. Among the grandest structures are the Colaco Mansion, identifiable by its oxblood-coloured walls and the historic Figueiredo Mansion, which you can take a tour around. Out in the lush hills, you’ll find the Manguesh Temple, while the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church’s claim to fame is that it is home to the second-largest bell in the world.
One of the best things about an Indian sojourn is the food and Goan cuisine is a wonderful fusion of Indian and Portuguese cooking styles. Its coastal location means seafood features prominently on the menus and tiger prawns, squid and lobster are readily available. Balichão is a delicious prawn curry and the mutton xacuti is also a firm favourite.
Goa is fairly sprawling, but with some careful planning, navigating can be easy. Buses are the cheapest way to get around, although taxis (check the fare before you set off) are also in constant supply. Take a rickshaw ride for the experience and use the passenger ferries to cross rivers and estuaries.